For One Brief Shining Moment There Was Camelot!
President Kennedy has been assassinated and the poised, elegant first lady has to now deal with not just his funeral, but with her own personal struggle to understand what has happened. The story is told in an interview format and we witness all the vulnerability and all the steel that could be present in one person in one glorious movie.
Natalie Portman is brilliantly cast as the former first lady, grieving for her husband, speaking about her plans for the future with a journalist (Billy Crudup in an equally amazing casting) asking her uncomfortable questions.
The questions are asked in such a calm manner you as audience are not even expecting them. In fact, from frame one you have given your heart away to Jackie, so you begin to view those questions as villainous. She’s frail, she’s so fragile too, you want to scream at the journalist, how can you be so mean to her?!
The journalist’s objectivity begins to seep into you slowly, and you notice the tremor of her hands, the hesitation when she lights up cigarette after cigarette, and then the steel in her eyes when she says that she will walk with her husband’s funeral cortege.
The story is told in a series of flashbacks and that sometimes works against it. It slows the pace of the film down a bit. But not once do you forget to wonder if she’s so stricken by grief, why invite a Life magazine journalist home?
What is so amazing is the power play that exists in the situation Jackie finds herself in. She witnesses Lyndon Johnson take oath whilst she stands there, her suit spattered by the blood of her slain husband. That she is not given any time to grieve as the first lady - she witnesses Mrs. Johnson make arrangements to redecorate the house she had lovingly set up, she watches the West Wing of the White House being taken over by the new administration - and she realises that she is no longer in charge. Her heartbreak when she sees the mannequins wearing the Chanel suits in stores being replaced is secondary only to the reality of whether secret service is going to allow her the funeral she believes is fit for the president. And when you begin to wonder if she’s given to delusions of grandeur, that she is about to flout every convention and walk with her husband’s body, you meet the priest, her confessor, and then understand what she means by wanting to remind America, why her husband is a great president, and should be remembered the way she wants the people to remember him.
This film rewards patience. And Natalie Portman does a superlative job, offering us her full range of histrionics. You come back home and check out the original video on the net and find that the First Lady’s tour of the White House very close to how Natalie Portman depicted her. Not an imitation, but beautifully interpreted.
(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)